Moving isn’t easy

Moving isn’t easy. I should know.  I moved twelve times before I was twelves years old. I considered myself quite the expert. I knew how to pack boxes and say goodbye, and I knew what to expect on the first day at a new school. I can tell with certainty that it was never easy. I never wanted to move. I never wanted to leave friends or belongings behind. I never had a choice.

yardsalelennyandlucyThere were many times when I felt like Callie in Yard Sale or Peter in Lenny & Lucy, and I don’t remember having  books like this back then.  I had to find my own way.

I’ll be honest, books like these still affect me deeply. They tell a story that I can feel in my bones: moving can feel like more than you can bear, but you will bear it. You’ll lean on your family or you’ll find some other way to cope. But you will be okay.

If my childhood taught me nothing else, it is that you will begin to feel at home anywhere if you try.

My most recent moves have been by choice. They’ve been less about emotional upheaval, and more about the usual physical upheaval of packing and unpacking. This last move was only a half a block from old to new, so the disruption of life and routine was minimal. Still, in any move, it takes conscious effort to feel at home in the new space, to create new habits, and to find the comfortable feeling that makes us happy to be there.

I am happy that books like Yard Sale and Lenny & Lucy exist. I hope they are shared widely with a wide variety of readers. I think they will resonate with anyone saying goodbye, settling in, or trying to adjust to a new set of circumstances. They certainly did for me.

Are you really a librarian?

Yes and no. The answer to the question “What do you do?” should not really be this complicated, but it is for me.  Yes, I am a librarian. No, I do not work in a library. This is usually when I get a blank look from whoever I am speaking to, and I start trying to explain: I’m a staff librarian at a book company. I’m one of the people, there are several of us, who help the real (more straightforward) librarians decide what books to buy.

A colleague of mine wrote about this very situation. He said,

“Here’s the thing. I don’t work at a library. Or maybe put in another way . . . I work at thousands of libraries. I work for a vendor that sells materials and services to school libraries across the country. My exact title is collection development specialist, and my primary task is to assist schools in finding the newest and best resources for their classrooms and media centers. In essence, I shop for books all day with other people’s money. Yeah, it’s a pretty sweet gig.”

Unlike my colleague, though, who says “But in my heart of hearts I know I’m not really a librarian,“ I argue that I am a librarian, and that the work that I do isn’t that far removed from what I did when I was in a public library.  It’s just a lot more specific.

In a library, I worked at a reference desk where I answered questions from library patrons about books or about whatever else they wanted to know.  There’s no reference desk at a book company, but the librarians in my department are to go-to people for anything book or library related.  I still spend a good portion of my work days answering questions, helping people, and finding information.  Just like a librarian.

The biggest part of my job is book promotion and collection development, just like it was when I was in a public library. I review and evaluate books.  I look for ways to connect them to readers or classrooms.  I might not be making displays or bulletin boards like I used to, but I am making book lists of all sorts for the librarians I speak with to use in their libraries.  As in the quote above, my primary task is helping librarian shop for books.  He’s right about one thing: it is a pretty sweet gig.

That all said, there’s a lot I miss about working in a library.  I definitely miss working with kids directly. One day I’d like to get back to that, and meanwhile I still look for opportunities to connect with young people whenever I can.  But the biggest thing I miss is the ease with which I could answer the question “What do you do?”

I do, however, answer the question “Are you really a librarian?” with a yes. Even if it does require a bit of explanation. ;)

How to ask a question

Questions are a big part of my life.  Not only am I a librarian, a career that has a particular focus on helping people answer questions, but also I’m a person with a visible physical difference–not to mention the assistive device I wear.  I live with curiosity, and I’ve decided to encourage it.

its-ok-to-ask-thumbIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, this isn’t news.  I’ve talked a lot about the questions people ask and the way that I answer them.  Here are just a few posts on the topic:

  • It’s Okay to Ask – Features a new picture book that encourages young kids to feel comfortable asking about disabilities and see beyond them.
  • My Day at School – Reflections on not being able to blend in when I visit my daughter’s classroom for the day.
  • Storytime Reflections – I was a special guest at a storytime at a public library, and I got some great questions from the kids and parents in the audience.

I have gotten questions of all sorts.  Some quite rude, most just hesitant and awkward.  I answer them all as best I can.  Not long ago, though, a little girl asked me about my prosthetic arm in the nicest way possible, and I just had to share.  She said, “I like your arm.  Can you tell me about it?”

It doesn’t get better than that. :)

A Doll Like Me

dollslikemeI don’t think I would have appreciated a “doll like me” when I was young enough to play with dolls, but I still wish I had had one.

I occasionally saw toys that attempted to represent kids with differences on display at clinics.  There were dolls with hearing aids, stuffed animals wearing braces, and others.  I never saw any with a limb deficiency or a prosthesis like mine, and I was glad because I was mortified at the thought of my parents getting me a disability doll.

I’m not sure I gave it much thought at the time.  I was an introspective kid, but when it came to the toys I liked, I mostly went by feeling.  My feeling was pretty strong that I didn’t want anything “special.” I knew that I felt just like other kids.  I felt totally normal, and so I felt I should have the same toys from the same stores  as other kids.  Not special ordered through a clinic.

I didn’t want to talk about my arm or answer questions about it. Like most kids, I wanted to talk about the things I loved, the things made me me.  My physical difference felt like a distraction from the me I was inside.  Why would I want a toy that emphasized it?

I still understand those feelings, but I’ve thought a lot more about it in the years since I stopped playing with dolls.  I’ve considered issues of representation and identity as they relate to the media kids are consuming and the toys that kids are playing with on a much deeper level than I did when I was eight.  I’ve thought about what it means to have one’s identity erased from public view, and I’ve felt the thrill–yes, I do mean to use that strong of a word–of seeing a usually invisible part of myself represented in the media. Not to mention, I’ve had enough people say “That’s weird” when I say that I was born without an arm to know how important being visible really is.

It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to blend in or erase parts of myself to be considered normal.  I just had to move past the obstacle.  I’ve said before: sometimes talking about things makes them less of an issue.  That certainly has been the case for me.

It is because of my childhood feeling of wanting to avoid being special that I am excited about Toys Like Me.  I felt normal, and I wanted normal toys.  So let’s normalize me.  Let’s normalize all sorts of different bodies and experiences for our kids.  Makies, a company that makes customizable dolls, is taking suggestions.  What do you want to see?  Let them know.

Perhaps if I’d had a doll like me when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have spent so long trying to be invisible.

Poem in your pocket

“Every day is some kind of holiday with librarians.”  My partner says this or some variation on it whenever I mention that it’s National Whatever Day or Whatever Awareness Day, which I do fairly often.  I can’t really argue.  There’s always something to celebrate, and you can always count on  librarian or a teacher to do just that. I don’t think it’s just me.  :)

Today happens to be one of my favorite celebrations: Poem in Your Pocket Day.  It is the day I choose a small poem for each member of my family to carry with them.  The Academy of American Poets encourages people everywhere to carry #pocketpoems on Poem in Your Pocket Day.  The organization has lofty goals like promoting art appreciation and getting poetry into the media.  I think that’s wonderful, but my intention is more down-to-earth.  I just want to bring my family into my world.  I fell in love with poetry a long time ago, and it is very important to me.  I don’t read it or write it as much as I would like anymore, but I still feel a strong connection to the art.  It’s a connection that I want to share with my partner and my daughter.  Even if they don’t take their poems out of their pockets all day, they are there.  Maybe the words will seep into their souls just by being close to them.

The best holidays are the quiet ones, in my opinion.  Poem in Your Pocket Day is just right.

Of course, any day might be a good day for a pocket poem.  For kids’ poetry, check out The Poem Farm in which poet Amy Ludwig Vanderwater shares poems and other fun stuff.


Why I am a Librarian

For School Library Month, librarians all over the Internet are sharing their stories of why they became librarians with the hashtag #whylib.  For me, becoming a librarian was more of a why not? than a why.  I didn’t really know what to do with my English degree other than write, and I knew I needed something to pay the bills while I wrote my novel.  I’d always loved libraries, so it seemed like a natural fit for me to be a librarian.  I started library school with my only expectation being he hope that I could support a writing career by the end.

Along the way–between classes in reference and instruction and other library staples–I discovered Young Adult Literature.  I knew very quickly that this was it for me.  Teen fiction and library services to teens was my professional heart.  My first job out of library school was focused on teen services at a public library, and it was a tremendous learning experience for which I am incredibly grateful.

From there, I went to work in the book industry–first for one book distributor/library vendor and now another–where my focus has widened from teens to the whole range of K-12 education.  This was a new perspective for me, and I didn’t really know if I would take to it.

After almost ten years on this side of the library world, I can say that I have gained a strong appreciation for the power of libraries–and librarians–along with a knowledge of children’s literature from picture books and easy readers to the teen fiction I still love.

I may have begun my career with a why not?, but every new experience has given me more of a why than ever.  The twenty-year-old me who started library school would never have guessed that I would end up being as passionate about picture books, storytimes, and children’s programming as I ever was about teen fiction.

I have learned a lot.  Mostly about connection, community, and the power of stories.  That’s what libraries are all about, and that’s why I am a librarian.

Related Links:

  • 6 Things I Wish I’d Known – I wrote this post after listening to an MPR segment with a similar theme.
  • Reflections of a Book Reviewer – My post after eight years of reviewing books for Library Journal.
  • Remember Your Why – From the Letters to a Young Librarian blog.
  • #whylib – Follow the hashtag on Twitter.


The Post Script is that I have not yet written a novel, but I still dream of doing so one day.  In the meantime, I had an article in last month’s VOYA Magazine. ;)

Talking about religion…

I have been eagerly following the discussion of Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit going on at Teen Librarian Toolbox.  I haven’t been talking about religion very much anymore on this blog.  It is one of those awkward topics after all, like politics, that people tend to avoid.  But I am still reading about it a lot, and I am very glad that others are talking about it.   After all,  I spent most of my life (including all of my teen years) as a person of faith in a non-mainstream religion, and I seem to always be drawn to stories that reflect the feelings that I remember from my religious experience, including the feeling of not wanting to be part of the religious identity I had always known.

starbirdHere are just a few of the teen fiction titles that resonated with me, and my admittedly unusual experience, on the subject of faith:

  • Hush by Eishes Chayil – This story addresses issues of sex abuse in a minority religious community in which reporting to the outside authorities is discouraged.  It affected me deeply since it was an issue for my former religion as well.
  • Like No Other by Una LaMarche – While there has been some discussion of the problematic portrayal of Hasidic Judaism in this book, I thought that Devorah’s emotional experience struggling with her faith and strict religious community was beautifully written.  I think that is an important story to tell, and I saw this story as a way of sharing parts of my own.
  • Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock – Starbird’s situation in this book is even more different from mine than the previous two on this list–she lives in a cult–but, again, it is the emotional experience that resonated with me.  When she leaves her home and interacts with the Outside for the first time, she learns that Outsiders are not all bad and that her ideas about the world might not be completely accurate.  This is, perhaps, one of my favorite de-conversion stories that I’ve read for its grace in capturing a nuanced experience.
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman – While I’m on the subject of cults*, I’ll throw this book into the discussion even though it won’t be published until April.  There are already too many cults in teen fiction, but I’ll allow this one.  Yes, the cult has some weird beliefs, but Hautman lets his character figure it out slowly and reluctantly.  No matter how weird one’s beliefs are, the process of leaving them is slow and reluctant.  Too many teen novels don’t get that.  This one does.  Watch for it.

A few other titles that make the list: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (atheism/agnosticism & Orthodox Judaism), Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu (Quiverful Christianity; Publishes in June 2015), A World Away by Nancy Grossman (Amish). On the nonfiction shelves: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler.  I have a running list going on my book list wiki.

None of these books is an exact match to my experience of religion or of separating from it, but each of them offers some glimpse into the world of making your own way in the world that is different from the way you were raised (or considering the possibility of doing that).  That is not an easy thing to do, and it is not easy to capture.  I am looking forward to the continued discussion on TLT, and I applaud them for taking up a topic that people often avoid discussing in mixed company.

Curious about my current religious identity? I shared that story here.

* When you are part of a minority group that isn’t often reflected in fiction, you tend to find similarities where you can.  There is an emotional resonance for me with these stories about cults because they are also a minority belief group. My discussion of these books should not constitute a commentary on religion in general or in specific.

How we tell our stories

redbutterflyI didn’t realize what Kara in Red Butterfly and  I had in common until I was twenty-five pages into the story when she describes her “one blunt hand” that she always keeps hidden in her sleeve.

I couldn’t help but think that when I finally write my own story, I hope it takes at least that long to get to describing my limb difference.  It may be the first thing that most people notice when they see me, but it doesn’t have to be the first part of my story or even the main part of my story.

It isn’t the main part of Kara’s story either.  Her story is about family and belonging and how messy and difficult those things can get.  I don’t have personal experience with Chinese culture or international adoption, so I can’t speak to those aspects of Kara’s story.  I can say that it was really nice to read about a limb difference that wasn’t a trauma, and I can happily report that Kara doesn’t struggle to do anything.  She rides a bike and does all sorts of other tasks that people would typically expect she couldn’t do.  Those things aren’t a big deal.

That, honestly, kind of warms my heart a little bit.

My story isn’t about trauma, and my only struggle is convincing people I’m not struggling.  It feels really good to see a middle grade novel that gets that.  I would recommend Red Butterfly to young readers (ages 10-12) who are interested in a thoughtful story written in lyrical verse.

More about me and my limb difference on Fake Arm 101.

My Day at School

I spent most of Monday in what felt like a sea of first graders.  I was at my daughter’s school for Parent Involvement Day, and as usual there were questions everywhere I turned.  I don’t exactly blend in.

In the lunch line, a little girl asked me if I was a pirate.  The look in her eyes and the tone of her voice told me she meant it nicely.  “I’m not,” I said with a smile. “But it looks like it, doesn’t it?  My hook is even cooler than a pirate’s though.  It opens up!”  She seemed suitably impressed.

Later one of the boys and I discussed some potential additions to my prosthetic arm after I’d explained to him how it worked.  He thought extendo-arm feature would be cool.  Super strength too.  I told him I hoped he would be the one to invent a prosthetic arm with super strength when he grew up.  He looked thoughtful as he said, “Yeah, I probably will.”

But it wasn’t all adorable. How is one supposed to respond to the child who repeatedly says, “You are scary.”? I still don’t know.  It would have been different if this child had seemed afraid, but he only seemed interested in drawing negative attention to me. There are only so many ways I can think of to say “I know I look different, but I’m really just like you.”  And some people won’t hear that message no matter how I say it.


The good news is that I’m not the only one saying it.

When I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I wanted every kid I knew to read it.  It said what I’d been trying to say for years.  Auggie says in the book: “The only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.”  If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance.  It may be message-driven (or what some have called “guidance counselor fiction“), but it’s a message to which I feel a strong connection.

jacobseyepatchI have mentioned Jacob’s Eye Patch on this blog before, but it bears mentioning again.  It is a great picture book for talking about differences.  I highly recommend it–and the activity kit–for it’s realistic look at curiosity and questions.  We always tell our kids not to mention anyone’s difference or ask any potentially embarrassing questions, but Jacob offers a “green light” to people who have questions about his eye patch.

My philosophy: When you can’t blend in, you might as well take questions.  It isn’t always comfortable.  But, as I often assure nervous parents whose children are about to ask me anything, I have heard it all, and I swear I’m not as scary as I look.

Sunday morning bus rides

marketstreet_bgMost Sunday mornings, my daughter and I ride a city bus to church and back home again.  We have waited for the bus in the rain and in the falling snow.  We have shared smiles with many different drivers and riders as we all explored our great city via public transit.

So I was excited to share Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena with my daughter.  How many picture books have families riding a city bus?  Only a few that I know of.  And none do it with the magic that Matt de la Pena brings to a simple bus ride.  Last Stop on Market Street is a celebration of city living that I want to share with everyone–especially those who question my appreciation for public transit.

In the story, CJ and his grandmother are riding the bus after church.  CJ asks question after question–Why don’t they have a car? How come that man can’t see? Why do they have to go somewhere after church?–and his grandmother answers them all with kindness.  I couldn’t help but smile as I read the story, and at the end, when they arrive at a soup kitchen to serve food to hungry people, I was reminded to look for opportunities to see beauty in the world.

On a chilly morning like this one, I have to admit I was silently wishing we were a two car family, so we could drive to church and my husband could drive to work.  But I thought of CJ and his Nana.  I thought of all the little moments I’ve had with my daughter on our Sunday morning bus rides.  I thought about my city and my church.  I am grateful that my city has a pretty great transit service and that my church has so many opportunities to help people.  Perhaps one of these Sundays, we will catch a later bus home so we can join the group that packs meals for homeless MCTC students after the service.

You can see some illustrations and read more about the story behind the book in this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.